Archive for Steve Eminger


Changes Are Coming On The Blue Line

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Not sure if you guys caught this, but Marc Staal returned to the lineup in dramatic fashion, just in time for the Winter Classic. Again, if you missed this, I don’t blame you, the news was sort of buried amidst the other Winter Classic hooplah.

All kidding aside, Staal’s return marked the 11th defenseman the Rangers have used this season. Stepping back, it really is remarkable how they are this good despite playing everyone except my mother on defense this season.

With Staal back in the lineup, the obvious scratch choice was Jeff Woywitka, and as expected, he was scratched for the Winter Classic. Woywitka, claimed off waivers, was essentially an insurance policy and a body to dress for games. In all fairness, he exceeded expectations and was extremely serviceable. He came in, adjusted to the new system, and played some steady third line minutes…with some hiccups of course.

Now with Mike Sauer looking like he is on the path to return –he skated with the team– the Rangers are going to need to find a place to insert him when he returns. The only realistic options for replacement are Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel, as none of Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, or Michael Del Zotto will be sitting any time soon.

Considering the current pairings, it is my guess that Bickel will be the one who sits for Sauer, when he returns. It’s nothing against the kid, who has played very well (again with some hiccups) in his call up, it’s just a numbers game. It makes more sense for Bickel to be returned to the AHL and get significant ice time than for him to sit around as the healthy scratch for weeks at a time. It is for that same reason that I expect Woywitka to stick around for a long time, at least until Steve Eminger heals.

The decisions about scratches and replacements are easy decisions. The decisions for defensive pairings however is a very tough choice. Does John Tortorella go back to his bread-and-butter pairing of Staal-Girardi? Does he leave Girardi with McDonagh and put Staal with Sauer? Does Del Zotto get matched back up with Sauer, leaving Staal to play with Stralman? These are questions that can only be answered by the coaching staff and by the players’ performance on the ice.

Personally, I would go back to ole reliable: Staal/Girardi, McDonagh/Sauer, MDZ/Stralman. That gives the Rangers two legitimate shut down pairings that also have some offensive upside, plus the surprisingly strong pairing of MDZ/Stralman to give the top four much needed rest. That leaves Eminger as the odd man out, but you would have to assume Stralman and Eminger would be rotating. Assuming those three pairings play the way that is expected and the way that they have all year, the Rangers have one of the deepest blue lines in the league.

The Rangers haven’t played a single game this season with a full strength blue line, yet they remain in first place in the conference. The Times They Are a-Changin’.

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A Look At The NYR GVT/PVT Leaders

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With the Rangers seemingly in cruise control heading as the season flipped to January, we have been taking the time to look at advanced metrics to determine who exactly is contributing and in what fashion. One of the overall metrics we use here, Points Versus Threshold (or PVT), has been unavailable because it is derived from Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), of which the numbers were not available until recently. Now that Hockey Prospectus has made the GVT numbers available, PVT is now available*. Just a note about the numbers: these do not include the Winter Classic or any January games.

*-Note to the HP and BTN guys: I can help you with getting these out regularly if you want. </shameless plug>

Looking at the defensive unit, which has been marred by injuries, there might be a bit of a surprise at who leads the way:

Key for the tables: GP=Games Played; OGVT=Offensive GVT; DGVT=Defensive GVT; SGVT=Shootout GVT; GVT=Overall GVT; PVT=Overall PVT

1 Michael Del Zotto 36 3.6 4 0 7.6 2.5
2 Ryan McDonagh 36 2.7 2 0 4.7 1.6
3 Dan Girardi 36 0.6 2.1 0 2.7 0.9
4 Anton Stralman 13 0.7 1.6 0 2.4 0.8
5 Jeff Woywitka 26 1.3 0.5 0 1.8 0.6
6 Stu Bickel 6 1 0.6 0 1.7 0.6
7 Michael Sauer 19 0 1.7 0 1.7 0.6
8 Steve Eminger 30 -0.1 0.9 0 0.8 0.3
9 Brendan Bell 1 -0.1 -0.1 0 -0.2 -0.1
10 Tim Erixon 13 -0.6 0.1 0 -0.5 -0.2

Yes folks, that is Michael Del Zotto ahead of both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi for tops among the defensemen in PVT. Del Zotto has earned the Rangers 2.5 extra points in the standings. That is as much as both McDoangh and Girardi combined. That’s not to discount the top pairing, as they are critical to the success of the team by shutting down the opposition. It is more to play up how Del Zotto has done a complete 180 from last season.

Looking more into these numbers, don’t look too deep into Mike Sauer’s numbers. GVT and PVT are counting metrics, and since Sauer has only played 19 games, his number appears lower. When you average it out to the 36 games played, he has about a 1.1 PVT (3.3 GVT) and sits in the top three or four.

As for Steve Eminger, who sits in the bottom three with a 0.3 PVT, it shows how much he struggled early in the season. He played better as he received more minutes, but his PVT numbers suffer because of his horrendous start.

Looking at the PVT numbers, it’s easy to see why Jeff Woywitka was scratched for Marc Staal’s return, and not Stu Bickel. Bickel has the same PVT as Woywitka, but in almost 1/4 the games. That number says it all. Plus the youth and “jam” factor of course.

Analysis of the forwards after the jump

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Blueline Changes This Summer?

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The Rangers blue line could look a lot different in the summer of 2012. There’s a chance that next season the Rangers will start six defensemen that have seen the ice this in New York season but don’t expect that six to include Steve Eminger, Anton Stralman and Jeff Woywitka.

All three journeyman pros have expiring contracts and are likely to be let go; at most one may be retained. Also with an expiring deal is Mike Del Zotto but barring something totally unexpected the talented youngster will get a new deal thanks to his rebound season, especially the way he is improving with each game this season.

Complicating what is beginning to look like an audition process for a depth spot on defense is the sudden emergence of Stu Bickel. It may be highly premature to call it an ’emergence’ but Bickel has shown a willingness to scrap, has chipped in offensively, kept it simple and for the most part has stepped up and looked capable at the NHL level. With every additional game Bickel impresses and with the injuries to guys like Eminger it really does make it a four horse race for a contract next summer; and that is if one is kept at all at the NHL level.

With Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Mike Sauer, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Del Zotto all very much part of the Rangers, the sixth defenseman promises to be Tim Erixon. As well as his outstanding potential, in Erixon’s favour (assuming he is full time, NHL ready) is that, with Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer, all three represent cap bargains next season as Sauer is the most expensive in 12/13 at $1.25m. Despite an injury earlier this season Erixon has looked very good in the AHL for the Whale and is close to a point/game player on the farm.

So where is the change coming? In all likelihood the change is likely to be via the aforementioned subtractions rather than substantial additions however there does promise to be further talent challenging for NHL roster spots. Dylan McIlrath and Pavel Valentenko (assuming the club retain him) will look to break the roster while Mikhail Pashnin might be in the mix, coming over from the KHL.

The Rangers have a stack of young established NHL defensemen, a couple of almost NHL ready prospects and a couple of juniors in the pipeline. Whether they add or subtract from the big club this summer, it continues to look good on the back end for the Rangers.

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What more can happen to the Rangers blue line? Marc Staal hasn’t played all year because of a concussion. Mike Sauer is out definitely because of a concussion. There was a makeshift bottom pairing that consisted of any combination of Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka, and Anton Stralman before the Sauer injury. Since the Sauer injury, Eminger was forced into top four duties, and played well. Now he is out, and the future of Woywitka is unknown since he is banged up.

Let’s assume Woywitka can go on Tuesday. After all, he is a hockey player. That leaves the Rangers in need of another defenseman. The smart money would be on Tim Erixon being called up, but he comes with a $1.75 million cap hit. With Mike Rupp activated, the Rangers don’t have room to carry that cap hit without making another roster move to clear some cap space. Since Sean Avery carries the biggest cap hit among those not playing regularly, it’s safe to assume that if Erixon is called up, then Avery will indeed be waived.

Another option is to call up Brendan Bell, who has NHL experience, but he would need to clear re-entry waivers prior to joining the club. It is unlikely someone would claim him, but the Rangers might not want to take that chance. If it is Bell that is called up, then placing Eminger on LTIR should clear enough cap space to make room for Bell.

The Rangers thin blue line just got a lot thinner. With the Christmas roster freeze a day away, the Rangers need to make their moves quickly.

Categories : Injuries
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Time To Ease the Burden

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Despite the quality of opposition increasing in the coming two weeks, new signing Anton Stralman still not completely ready (despite playing in his first game the other day), and the continuing absence of Marc Staal the Rangers need to spread the ice time around a little more among the blue line.

It’s absurd that two Rangers blue liners (McDonagh and Girardi) average more than 25 minutes a game with Dan Girardi over 27 minutes per contest. Meanwhile, despite Mike Del Zotto showing solid progression this year he is not ready for the 22(ish) minutes per game he is receiving. Young players can burn out later in the year with so much expectancy on their shoulders, not to mention the actual physical demands, so if Tortorella wants to continue to ride  his top 3 so hard, Stralman and Staal may come in and find the rest of the blue line is out of gas.

The Rangers coach needs to show a little more faith in the bottom pair or if they are not ready or able, he needs to turn to Connecticut for alternatives. The eventual arrival of Stralman will help alleviate the pressure on the top players (one assumes) but it still needs to be a healthier spread of ice time. The Rangers blue line has not been bad but it all comes down to the minute munchers at the top. That can’t continue over an 82 game season.

The bottom pair on the blue line reminds somewhat of a few seasons back when the team consistently carried just six defensemen and players began playing like their jobs were secure. Is that an issue here now? Or is Steve Eminger simply that terrible and Woywitka just that inconsistent?

Steve Eminger did an honorable job last season, stepping up in times of need. The Rangers can find out a lot about him if they give him more ice time over the next week or two. If he continues his dire play of this season then he needs to be cut loose. If he steps up and stabilizes his play then he becomes a legitimate alternative.

The Rangers need to spread the defensive minutes for a few reasons; the health and the long term well being of the guys at the top and to find out what they really have at the bottom. You’d rather find out who you can rely on by game 30 than have question marks come April.

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Stalman Enters; Who Sits?

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The news broke yesterday that the New York Rangers had signed defenseman Anton Stralman to a one year, $900,000 contract to fill out the blue line with Marc Staal out indefinitely. The Rangers are using the old method of “throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks” to fill out the bottom pairing. People thrown at the wall include rookie Tim Erixon (now in the AHL), Brendan Bell (AHL), Steve Eminger (rough start), and Jeff Woywitka (four games).

None of the top four will sit, as all four have been playing extremely well. So it’s clearly between Eminger and Woywitka. Woywitka had a rough first couple of games, but played a very good game last night, and definitely has been showing improvement as each game progresses. That is a very good sign, as it shows Woywitka is learning coach John Tortorella’s system, and growing more comfortable with his transition to New York.

As for Eminger, well he has been somewhat atrocious. Without rehashing the entire post from last week, Eminger has not been able to help his team maintain possession of the puck while he is on the ice, despite facing mediocre competition at best. He has been out of position, and lacked the “jam” that made him somewhat effective last season. Simply put, he has regressed, while Woywitka has progressed. Not a good sign for Eminger.

Add to the picture that Stralman and Eminger are both righties (Woywitka is a lefty), and the cards just don’t play out for Eminger at the moment. Assuming Woywitka keeps up his strong play, it’s going to be tough to argue against sitting Eminger when Stralman joins the team. Having a spare defenseman on the roster isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it will keep those bottom guys playing hard, knowing they could be in the press box at any given moment.

Of course, the Rangers could always try some sort of rotation with Eminger, Woywitka, and Stralman at first, and see who emerges as a legitimate bottom pairing player. It’s the same method the Rangers used last year with Eminger, Mike Sauer, and Matt Gilroy. The rotation worked well, as the Rangers discovered they had a defense beast in Sauer. That’s not to say it will happen again this year, but getting them all playing time could really help identify which player –or pairing– is most effective.

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Steve Eminger Needs To Be Better

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When Marc Staal was diagnosed with post concussion symptoms, most fans knew that the Rangers were going to have some trouble addressing the hole he leaves in his absence. Replacing Staal is impossible, although Ryan McDonagh seems to be filling in just fine, but the biggest issue came when the Rangers tried to piece together a third pairing, and wound up with Steve Eminger, Brendan Bell, Jeff Woywitka, and Tim Erixon all spending time there.

Erixon and Bell are in the AHL now, leaving both Eminger and Woywitka back in the lineup for the foreseeable future. The problem is that neither one of them should be playing steady minutes on a regular basis, and Eminger is off to a terrible start to the year. In nine games, Eminger is pointless with a -7 rating. He has looked lost in his own zone, and can’t seem to do anything right in any zone on the ice. As bad as he has looked, his advanced metrics show he is even worse off than we thought.

Eminger’s Corsi rating –a rating that values puck possession– is atrocious. The only one on the team with a worse Corsi was Erixon, and he’s a rookie.  Coupling his awful Corsi with the fact that 45% of his shifts start in the offensive zone, and you get a player who can’t maintain puck possession despite being given the opportunity. His Qualcomp is middle of the road for the team, but still doesn’t help his case. GVT numbers are currently unavailable (small sample sizes).

This is one of those cases where the eye test matches the metrics test: Eminger has been awful and needs to be better. With Staal out, and Michael Del Zotto being ‘babied’ a bit with his matchups, Eminger needs to provide veteran stability on the blue line, something he is not doing. Although these are small sample sizes, Woywitka has outplayed Eminger thus far, and would get many votes to stay in the lineup if and when Staal returns.

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When the Rangers lost Marc Staal and Mike Sauer, they lost more than two of their top four defensemen. They lost two of their most physical defensemen and two guys that have been relied upon for many games to neutralize the opposition’s top lines. They are out, and others are looked at to fill those gaping holes on defense. Although it is very tough to quantify how the Rangers will look when Staal and Sauer come back, we can look at who the workhorses are, and who is lining up against top quality –or bottom of the barrel– opponents.

Let’s state the obvious: Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are the workhorses, and they are facing off against the opposition’s top lines night in and night out. They will be doing so for the foreseeable future too, as there does not appear to be any timetable for Staal and Sauer’s return. Using the eye test, it’s easy to say that Michael Del Zotto has been one of the Rangers better defenders as well, and to an extent he has been. But that’s why we have stats like QUALCOMP that measure the quality of competition that each player is facing.

A brief description of QUALCOMP, it is a positive or negative number, and the higher it is, the better competition a player is facing. Let’s look at the table below through the Rangers first three games:

Ryan McDonagh



Dan Girardi



Tim Erixon



Steve Eminger



Jeff Woywitka



Michael Del Zotto



To sum up the table, the players facing the top quality competition are the ones you’d expect in McDonagh and Girardi. After that, it’s interesting to see that Tim Erixon is the player that coach John Tortorella seems to rely on the most when it comes to difficult opponents. The fact that they are the only three with positive QUALCOMP shows how much trust the coach has in them, and how his trust wavers with some of his other options.

Yes, Michael Del Zotto has been pretty good on defense this year, but he is way at the bottom of the QUALCOMP rankings. In fact, Del Zotto is at the very bottom in QUALCOMP for the entire league (excluding Sauer, who is injured). This is, of course, a very small sample size (just three games), and these numbers are likely to change dramatically as there is more of a regression to the mean (or progression to the mean for those slow out of the gate).

While those numbers themselves may change dramatically, the place where each defenseman resides on the list is likely to remain unchanged. It is widely known that with Staal and Sauer out, McDonagh and Girardi will be the top dogs on the blue line. What is troubling is that the Rangers have one defenseman that they are “breaking in” (Del Zotto), and another veteran –one that they relied on heavily last year– that are in the negatives with their QUALCOMP.

We do fall victim to small sample sizes here, as Jeff Woywitka has only played one game, and Steve Eminger took about 10-15 games last year to hit his stride and become that reliable defenseman that helped the Rangers through their injuries last season.  That said, trends will likely continue though, so expect to see Del Zotto facing off against lesser quality opponents, and expect the bulk of the heavy duty work to go to McDonagh and Girardi.

The positive to take out of this is that Tim Erixon has been facing some decent competition, better than both Eminger and Woywitka. He has been up to the task thus far. Although the number may change, he will still be considered to be a “second pairing” guy when it comes to the quality he is facing.

Categories : Analysis
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Could Staal Mean Dylan?

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With all the hullaballoo (love that word) surrounding Marc Staal’s physical condition, it’s worth pointing out once again the impressive depth the Rangers have at the defense position. Yes, I can hear the replies now of ‘none of them are Marc Staal’. Certainly true, at least at this stage of their careers they are not. However, what is worth noting is that there may not be a franchise in the league right now that could bear the brunt of missing their best blue liner better the Rangers can.

Obviously if Staal misses game time long term it puts a huge dent in the 2011-12 plans of the Rangers. I’d argue that he is just as important as a Gaborik, more important than a Dubinsky, and not far behind the level of importance Lundqvist has on this team. However, the Rangers have a stack of defensemen on the bubble of making the big club (sooner rather than later) that could fill in at least short term, even if it was in a reduced capacity.

Dave pointed out the other day how Pavel Valentenko may be on the roster and not in the AHL due to his contract status. Indeed Valentenko has the physical game and aggressiveness to keep the Rangers blueline nasty and with an appropriate physicality. You have the much discussed, even more anticipated Tim Erixon looking impressive each day, and the potential offensive whiz of Mike Del Zotto still around. Great potential, great depth.

Here’s the wild card in the Staal situation: don’t rule out the Rangers keeping Dylan McIlrath with the club if Staal were to miss some regular season time. It serves a few purposes. The Rangers get a full look at the big kid in ‘real’ NHL action. It gives him invaluable experience and could be done in the bottom pairing with another player moving up. Steve Eminger played admirably in a bigger role for a period last year, so it’s not daunting to think he could be needed to do it again this season even if it isn’t ideal.

Back to Dylan McIlrath. A lot of people may think he’s not NHL ready and he probably isn’t. He wasn’t a dominating presence at Traverse City and he’s not been a name flying off the tongue in camp either. However, when considering this potential opportunity to fill-in for Staal remember John Tortorella’s recent comments about infusing yet more talent in to the line up and further developing the youth. Giving McIlrath a 6-7 game look to begin the year does both. Hey, you may send him back to junior after a spell in NY, but take a look at what you have in the kid. We’ll get some more insight in to McIlrath’s readiness in today’s pre-season opener.

So how about Blake Parlett and Tomas Kundratek? Brendan Bell? Staal’s ‘injury’ scare is unfortunate, potentially crippling if it lingered, but if anything it should act as a carrot to the rest of the defensemen in camp that aren’t assured of a roster spot. In an odd way, the Staal situation could act as a great motivator to the rest and really crank up the competition. Players are playing for an NHL job, even if it’s short term. Once they’re there it’s a chance to stick with the team.

Given that I’m a risk taker, but at the same time an optimist, if the unfortunate scenario of Staal missing game time occurred, I’d give McIlrath a shot while taking a veteran such as Bell to Europe as well. You have the safety blanket of Bell being around but the opportunity to unleash what is (hopefully) a big part of the team’s future in McIlrath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right?

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One of the biggest question marks heading into the new season for the Rangers has nothing to do with Brad Richards or Marian Gaborik.  It has to do with the bottom defense pairing. Right now, many assume that at least one of Michael Del Zotto or Tim Erixon will be ready and will make the team and won’t be a liability in any of the three zones.  The best case scenario is that they both succeed and make the team, making Steve Eminger a seventh defenseman.  But there is always the other scenario: that both need to hit the AHL a little before coming to the big club.

If that’s the case, then the only guarantee is that Steve Eminger will be on the bottom pairing.  After Eminger, the Rangers would have more question marks for the final defenseman than the Islanders do with their goaltending.  Pavel Valentenko –due to his great camp last year– and Brendan Bell –because he has already played in the NHL– would be the two favorites to serve as the final (or final two) defensemen.  However, nothing is given.  Remember when everyone guaranteed Ryan McDoangh a spot on opening night, only to be outplayed by his current defense partner?

But the candidate that not many will point to is the one that I am looking at to fill a void if these two aren’t ready: Tomas Kundratek.  He could be the most NHL ready of any of the Rangers AHL defensemen last year, with the exception of Wade Redden.  The 21 year old may not put up stellar numbers, but he has been a steady blue line presence for the Whale, who appears capable of handling NHL duties.

The first issue may be who makes the team, but the second issue is waivers, and it’s a pretty big issue.  Currently, none of the prospects and young players need to pass through waivers, but that will change 33 games into the season, if Del Zotto makes the team.  The minute Del Zotto plays his 33rd game this season, he will need to pass through waivers, which presents a whole other obstacle for the Rangers to overcome.  It also presents a very interesting scenario: If Del Zotto appears to be ready, but could benefit from more AHL time, do the Rangers send him down to avoid the waiver issue?

The question about the bottom pairing is one that may be floating under the radar because of Brad Richards and the hole(s) he fills, but it is a question that needs to be answered before the Rangers open the season in Sweden.  This may, in fact, be the biggest hole in the Rangers team this season.  With questions abound about not only the composition of the bottom pair, but waivers as well, Rangers brass may be forced to make a decision that will anger some fans.  But if John Tortorella’s track record tells us anything, it’s that he will give the kids every opportunity to play their way on to the roster.

Categories : Musings
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